Ankle sprains are no fun. Plus, once you’ve sustained one ankle injury you are more likely to experience others in the future. Of course, there are some factors that you have little control over, such as genetics, aging, and freak accidents. Yet, there are plenty of other components that are in your control. Keep reading to learn some tips on how to prevent ankle sprains.
Warming up is crucial for the entire body, especially the ankle joint. It raises the temperature of your entire body, allowing better use of oxygen with exercise and increasing overall elasticity of tissues. Additionally, it can increase joint range of motion (if needed) and get you mentally prepared for a good workout. Before physical activities, try walking or dynamic movements that specifically move the foot and ankle. Static stretching (standing or sitting and holding a position) is no longer a must for a warm-up unless you have a particularly stiff or sore area to address.
A history of sprains can result in reduced flexibility of the ankle in the transverse plane of dorsiflexion and plantarflexion (toes up toward shin; and pointed). This imbalance, paired with potential hyper flexibility in the horizontal plane of pronation and supination (the entire ankle rolling inward or outward), can lead to further sprains. Focus on dorsiflexion stretches and other general ankle range of motion and strength exercises to maintain flexibility.
Common foot issues, such as joint hypermobility, a flat foot, and excessive supination can predispose the ankle to a sprain. Proper shoe wear or orthotics is a way to negate this. Make sure the shoes you are wearing fit their purpose. This means finding shoes that provide adequate support without limiting your foot and ankle’s innate coordination. What this varies with your body, activities of choice (i.e. running, walking, hiking), and your comfort level. Lastly, don’t forget to replace old shoes that wear out and can put your ankle in a poor position for movement. If you’re not sure what is best for you, talk to a podiatrist, biomechanics specialist, or physical therapist for recommendations.
Following an ankle injury, don’t do too much too fast when you’re returning to exercising or playing sports. When cleared by your doctor or physical therapist, start with a simple range of motion, strengthening, and weight-bearing activities. You will eventually be able to progress when you can coordinate more complicated movements without causing a flare-up of pain or swelling and feel stable on your foot and ankle. You will then be able to work the ankle in controlled but unstable environments, such as single-leg standing, standing on soft surfaces, and more. Lastly, you will progress to testing your ankle stability with exercises that mimic the movements you need to do to safely return to your normal activities. Once you are cleared to return fully to your normal routine, still take time to stay in tune with you, such as stairs or jumping. If during the progression process you experience a flare-up, listen to your body and take a rest day or modify what you’re doing as needed.
When to use athletic tape or an ankle wrap is a hotly debated topic. While the use of one can provide better awareness and a little extra support, it is argued that this support can be detrimental in the long term or give you a false sense of stability. For a newer injury that you are still not comfortable with, these are definitely great options. Additionally, if you have a history of ankle instability, taping, a compression wrap, or even an ankle brace, it can help you stay involved in activities that you love.
The most important thing is to find what works for you, gives you the stability and confidence you need to stay active, and ultimately helps you maximize your quality of life. Athletic tape is also a cost-efficient way to see if you would benefit from an ankle brace before buying one. A physical therapist or athletic trainer can tape your ankle and you can see how it affects your symptoms and stability.
The ankle’s ability to balance is probably the biggest factor that will determine whether a future ankle injury will occur. The ankle’s ability to regain proprioception or the body’s own awareness of how its joints are moving will determine how well the ankle can accept balance challenges. Without good balance, the risk of ankle re-injury is considerably higher. Balance training can start with simply standing on both feet and then progress to single-leg standing activities with dynamic movements and specialized balance trainers.
With a moderate to severe ankle sprain, unfortunately, the outside of the ankle remains somewhat unstable even with healing due to stretching of ligaments. This makes it significantly easier to “roll the ankle” in the future when moving on uneven surfaces. If you are at a high risk of reinjury then avoiding running on uneven surfaces altogether may be best. Otherwise, you will need to pay extra attention or prepare your ankle for returning to running, walking, or hiking on trails, grass, and other soft surfaces.
Chronic inflammation throughout the body and ankle can predispose you to issues with chronic disease, poor tissue quality, and poor healing. These can all affect your ankle health and lead to an injury lapse. Keeping your diet in mind can have a profound effect on your other efforts (as listed above) and ultimately provide better overall healing when it’s needed. General guidelines include eating less processed food (anything packaged) and more nutrient-dense foods (such as fruits, veggies, sustainably sourced meats, healthy fats, etc.). Don’t forget to drink plenty of water too!
The best options for preventing an ankle sprain for you all comes down to preference and your specific needs.
With a consistent program addressing ankle balance, strength, and flexibility you significantly decrease your risk of injury to the ankle ligaments. Additionally, you can utilize tools like your diet, wraps, and shoe wear to maximize your ankle (and entire lower leg) function and injury prevention. Don’t let future ankle pain and injuries slow you down, instead take the right steps to prevent them now.
Sources:SHOP SPRAINED ANKLE PRODUCTS